Archive for the 'Diversity in Science' category

On the obsessive hobbies of scientists

This is an extension to some thoughts I posted on Twitter awhile ago.

There is a certain species of “amazing scientist who is revolutionizing everything” biographical puff piece that strikes an interesting chord about academics. These are details that come up in seminar introductions, blog posts, media profiles, institutional profiles, award nominations and obituaries.

I am referring specifically to the part where they talk about hobbies, interests and activities that are not directly related to work*.

I surmise the hobby is discussed in these types of pieces to humanize the nerd or to amaze you that their non-science time is just as obsessive and elite as their science**. Possibly both of these apply simultaneously. Typical realms of discussion are obsessive sports participation (very commonly running long distance events or triathlon competition), foodie obsession (he cooks lavish meals for his lab), wine snobbery or the arts. With respect to the arts, you most commonly hear about how the scientist being lionized plays a musical instrument in a band. Presumably this ties into our societal obsession with rock n rollers and their supposed rebel natures. We know Francis Collins plays the guitar in a band. We know Nora Volkow likes to run. I can’t remember hearing about any community minded hobbies of any of the other IC directors.

You don’t hear about how the awesome scientist pulls his (it’s usually a him) weight at home in these types of settings. Obsessive plumbing leak fixer! Soccer dad! Makes meals for his family on the regular!

You don’t hear about community stuff either. Many scientists participate in local groups for improving the schools or city governance or their faith community. Many spend their time volunteering in the classroom.

And it isn’t just the puff pieces that draw this distinction between the externally-focused activities and the obsessively internally-focused ones. Academic science actually punishes people for anything they do that isn’t self-oriented.

If one is highly accomplished in science it is okay to have hobbies as long as they are obsessively self-involved ones like running marathons. It is obvious that any sort of external activity or hobby is only okay if the science work is considered to be of the highest rank. If one is considering a middle of the road scientist then clearly they should be spending more time at work and less time training for a marathon!

Look, I get that we like to know more about people's life outside of their work. Pursuit of the personal detail fuels industries valued in the billions of dollars when it comes to famous movie stars, musicians, politicians and professional athletes. There is no reason that people in science wouldn't also have an interest in the non-work activities of the more famous members of our professions.

But still. The relative selectivity in what we choose to lionize versus criticize about our science peers seems meaningful to me. It has an effect on all of us, including (most importantly) our trainees. Personally, I do not want people in science thinking (no matter how implicitly) that obsessive, self-involved hobbies are associated with the most revered scientists and that community type, external benefit activities are the hallmark of the scientific nobody.

Perhaps we could think twice about those seminar speaker intros we give and the nature of the puff pieces we write or contribute background to.

__
*Calm yourselves debate champeens. This set of observations is about which hobbies we choose to laud in a professional context and which ones we do not. It doesn’t mean you are horrible for running every day. Exercise is healthy and good for you. We should all do more of it.

**And I should also note that this doesn't have to devolve into “I only have time for work” snark, no matter the reality. I'm not criticizing hobbies and activities at all. I think that is great if you have things that make you happy. Again, this is about the type of such non-science hobbies that we find reason to congratulate or merely to note in a professionally-oriented biographical piece.

8 responses so far

Zealots

One of my favorite thing about this blog, as you know Dear Reader, is the way it exposes me (and you) to the varied perspectives of academic scientists. Scientists that seemingly share a lot of workplace and career commonalities which, on examination, turn out to differ in both expected and unexpected ways. I think we all learn a lot about the conduct of science in the US and worldwide (to lesser extent) in this process.

Despite numerous pointed discussions about differences of experience and opinion for over a decade now, it still manages to surprise me that so many scientists cannot grasp a simple fact.

The way that you do science, the way the people around you do science and the way you think science should be done are always but one minor variant on a broad, broad distribution of behaviors and habits. Much of this is on clear display from public evidence. The journals that you read. The articles that you read. The ones that you don't but can't possible miss knowing that they exist. Grant funding agencies. Who gets funded. Universities. Med schools within Universities. Research Institutions or foundations. Your colleagues. Your mentors and trainees. Your grad school drinking buddies. Conference friends and academic society behaviors.

It is really hard to miss. IMO.

And yet.

We still have this species of dumbass on the internet that can't get it through his* thick head that his experiences, opinions and, yes, those of his circle of reflecting room buddies and acolytes, is but a drop in the bucket.

And they almost invariable start bleating on about how their perspective is not only the right way to do things but that some other practice is unethical and immoral. Despite the evidence (again, often quite public evidence) that large swaths of scientists do their work in this totally other, and allegedly unethical, way.

The topic of the week is data leeching, aka the OpenAccessEleventy perspective that every data set you generate in your laboratory should be made available in easily understood, carefully curated format for anyone to download. These leeches then insist that anyone should be free to use these data in any way they choose with barely the slightest acknowledgment of the person who generated the data.

Nobody does this. Right? It's a tiny minority of all academic scientific endeavor that meets this standard at present. Limited in the individuals, limited in the data types and limited in the scope even within most individuals who DO share data in this way. Maybe we are moving to a broader adoption of these practices. Maybe we will see significant advance. But we're not there right now.

Pretending we are, with no apparent recognition of the relative proportions across academic science, verges on the insane. Yes, like literally delusional insanity**.

__
*94.67% male

**I am not a psychiatristTM

49 responses so far

MeToo STEM

There is a new blog at MeTooSTEM.wordpress.com that seeks to give voice to people in STEM disciplines and fields of work that have experienced sexual harassment.

Such as Jen:

The men in the lab would read the Victoria’s Secret catalog at lunch in the break room. I could only wear baggy sweatshirts and turtlenecks to lab because when I leaned over my bench, the men would try to look down my shirt. Then came the targeted verbal harassment of the most crude nature

or Sam:

I’ve been the victim of retaliation by my university and a member of the faculty who was ‘that guy’ – the ‘harmless’ one who ‘loved women’. The one who sexually harassed trainees and colleagues.

or Anne:

a scientist at a company I wanted to work for expressed interest in my research at a conference. ... When I got to the restaurant, he was 100% drunk and not interested in talking about anything substantive but instead asked personal questions, making me so uncomfortable I couldn’t network with his colleagues. I left after only a few minutes, humiliated and angry that he misled about his intentions and that I missed the chance to network with people actually interested in my work

Go Read.

2 responses so far

Tales of LOL-tastic anti-diversity professors

Feb 28 2018 Published by under Academics, Diversity in Science

There was a comment from girlparts on my prior post which triggered an anecdote from my past. It seemed worth having its own post. I guess in a way it is relevant to the broader question of how one should react if someone speaks disparagingly of "diversity hire" professors. This little experience certainly went into helping me to see yet another way that the Defenders Of Quality are total hypocrites when it is something dear to them. Unsurprisingly because such individuals tend to lean conservative and therefore act like conservatives- i.e., selfishly hypocritical.

girlparts observed:

And, of course, members of underrepresented minorities are much less likely to be able to benefit from knowing someone famous etc.

During one of my science training stops I was in a Department that had a couple of these anti-affirmative action type established Professors. They were loud and confident so we were under no illusions whatsoever about what they thought about a whole host of things. They were walking reddit threads* long before reddit was a thing.

Relevant to this tale is that there were two individuals hired during my association with that Department that were widely and almost openly derided as "dean's hire" affirmative action appointments. Particularly by the aforementioned rightwinger Defenders of Quality but you tended to hear it from everyone. EveryoneKnows(tm) They Are AffirmativeAction Hires That We Wouldn't Have Hired Save For The Dean.

Of course they were generally shit on by the department. I was not privvy to specific details but I watched as they got crappy space (literally in the basement), nobody seemed to want to collaborate and they always seemed to struggle to get access to resources. Both of them eventually left. This, bad as it is, is not the main point of the tale.

The main point is that a few years later there was a non-minority hire in the department. She had trained in the department and that alone was a tiny bit eyebrow raising because the Department definitely had the ethos of geographic nomadism being the best. It goes without saying that some of the Defenders of Quality were had been the loudest about how surely we could not hire our own trainees or anybody too well-associated with the department! That would compromise our quality.

But even better was the fact that soon after the hire it turned out that she was engaged to one of the established faculty. Naturally that guy was one of the jerkiest Defenders of Quality and most fervent Anti-Affirmative-Action Warriors. The most reddit of walking reddit threads. And here he was, engineering the tenure track Assistant Professor appointment of his soon-to-be spouse.

Of course the tale gets even better. There were at least four examples of women married to established professors in the department who had tried to get faculty appointments over the previous decade and a half. None of them got Asst Prof offers and had to settle for bad non-tenure track barely faculty appointments. They struggled along on the margins of slightly above adjunct teaching gigs and shoe string research activities. So on the one hand, of course this couple that pulled it off had to be totally secret about their relationship until after she'd gotten hired.

OTOH... oooooh, baby there were some angry folks.

__
*thanks to someone who may or may not choose to self-identify in the comments for this little gem

2 responses so far

Thought of the day

Feb 27 2018 Published by under Careerism, Diversity in Science

Someone on the Twitters was asking for ideas about what to say in response to faculty that say, dismissively, that other faculty members are "diversity hires". The implication, stated or not by such folk, is that persons of color, or of nonXY chromosomal identity, are clearly inferior merely because of such identities.

In context of prospective new faculty during a hiring cycle, the VeryConcerned person often asserts that they are only concerned with keeping up the standards of the department.

"Can't have all these inferior diversity hires dragging us down, chaps! Hrm, hrm."

My thought is this.

In science, the young, new hires are always better than the department's current average. They have more cutting edge techniques, fresher ideas, less historical baggage and/or likely better collaborative relationships. They are not yet burned out, quite the contrary.

So the VeryConcernedColleague can rest at ease. The new hire is going to improve the Department, no matter who is hired out of the Long List of reasonably attractive candidates.

14 responses so far

NIH Director Collins went to Kenya and all I got was

Aug 04 2016 Published by under Diversity in Science, NIH

...a picture he took with the 0.2%.

9 responses so far

NIH Director Collins and CSR Director Nakamura continue to kick the funding disparity can down the road

A News piece in Science by Jeffrey Mervis details the latest attempt of the NIH to kick the Ginther can down the road.

Armed with new data showing black applicants suffer a 35% lower chance of having a grant proposal funded than their white counterparts, NIH officials are gearing up to test whether reviewers in its study sections give lower scores to proposals from African-American applicants. They say it’s one of several possible explanations for a disparity in success rates first documented in a 2011 report by a team led by economist Donna Ginther of the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Huh. 35%? I thought Ginther estimated more like a 13% difference? Oh wait. That's the award probability difference. About 16% versus 29% for white applicants which would be about a 45% lower chance. And this shows "78-90% the rate of white...applicants". And there was Nakamura quoted in another piece in Science:

At NIH, African-American researchers “receive awards at “55% to 60% the rate of white applicants,” Nakamura said. “That's a huge disparity that we have not yet been able to seriously budge,” despite special mentoring and networking programs, as well as an effort to boost the number of scientists from underrepresented minorities who evaluate proposals.

Difference vs rate vs lower chance.... Ugh. My head hurts. Anyway you spin it, African-American applicants are screwed. Substantially so.

Back to the Mervis piece for some factoids.

Ginther..noted...black researchers are more likely to have their applications for an R01 grant—the bread-and-butter NIH award that sustains academic labs—thrown out without any discussion...black scientists are less likely to resubmit a revised proposal ...whites submit at a higher rate than blacks...

So, what is CSR doing about it now? OK HOLD UP. LET ME REMIND YOU IT IS FIVE YEARS LATER. FIFTEEN FUNDING ROUNDS POST-GINTHER. Ahem.

The bias study would draw from a pool of recently rejected grant applications that have been anonymized to remove any hint of the applicant’s race, home institution, and training. Reviewers would be asked to score them on a one-to-nine scale using NIH’s normal rating system.

It's a start. Of course, this is unlikely to find anything. Why? Because the bias at grant review is a bias of identity. It isn't that reviewers are biased against black applicants, necessarily. It is that they are biased for white applicants. Or at the very least they are biased in favor of a category of PI ("established, very important") that just so happens to be disproportionately white. Also, there was this interesting simulation by Eugene Day that showed a bias that is smaller than the non-biased variability in a measurement can have large effects on something like a grant funding system [JournalLink].

Ok, so what else are they doing?

NIH continues to wrestle with the implications of the Ginther report. In 2014, in the first round of what NIH Director Francis Collins touted as a 10-year, $500 million initiative to increase the diversity of the scientific workforce, NIH gave out 5-year, $25 million awards to 10 institutions that enroll large numbers of minority students and created a national research mentoring network.

As you know, I am not a fan of these pipeline-enhancing responses. They say, in essence, that the current population of black applicant PIs is the problem. That they are inferior and deserve to get worse scores at peer review. Because what else does it mean to say the big money response of the NIH is to drum up more black PIs in the future by loading up the trainee cannon now?

This is Exhibit A of the case that the NIH officialdom simply cannot admit that there might be unfair biases at play that caused the disparity identified in Ginther and reinforced by the other mentioned analyses. The are bound and determined to prove that their system is working fine, nothing to see here.

So....what else ?

A second intervention starting later this year will tap that fledgling mentoring network to tutor two dozen minority scientists whose R01 applications were recently rejected. The goal of the intervention, which will last several months, is to prepare the scientists to have greater success on their next application. A third intervention will educate minority scientists on the importance of resubmitting a rejected proposal, because resubmitted proposals are three times more likely to be funded than a de novo application from a researcher who has never been funded by NIH.

Oh ff..... More of the same. Fix the victims.

Ah, here we go. Mervis finally gets around to explaining that 35% number

NIH officials recently updated the Ginther study, which examined a 2000–2006 cohort of applicants, and found that the racial disparity persists. The 35% lower chance of being funded comes from tracking the success rates of 1054 matched pairs of white and black applicants from 2008 to 2014. Black applicants continue to do less well at each stage of the process.

I wonder if they will be publishing that anywhere we can see it?

But here's the kicker. Even faced with the clear evidence from their own studies, the highest honchos still can't see it.

One issue that hung in the air was whether any of the disparity was self-inflicted. Specifically, council members and NIH officials pondered the tendency of African-American researchers to favor certain research areas, such as health disparities, women’s health, or hypertension and diabetes among minority populations, and wondered whether study sections might view the research questions in those areas as less compelling. Valantine called it a propensity “to work on issues that resonate with their core values.” At the same time, she said the data show minorities also do less well in competition with their white peers in those fields.

Collins offered another possibility. “I’ve heard stories that they might have been mentored to go into those areas as a better way to win funding,” he said. “The question is, to what extent is it their intrinsic interest in a topic, and to what extent have they been encouraged to go in that direction?”

Look, Ginther included a huge host of covariate analyses that they conducted to try to make the disparity go away. Now they've done a study with matched pairs of investigators. Valantine's quote may refer to this or to some other analysis I don't know but obviously the data are there. And Collins is STILL throwing up blame-the-victim chaff.

Dude, I have to say, this kind of denialist / crank behavior has a certain stench to it. The data are very clear and very consistent. There is a funding disparity.

This is a great time to remind everyone that the last time a major funding disparity came to the attention of the NIH it was the fate of the early career investigators. The NIH invented up the ESI designation, to distinguish it from the well established New Investigator population, and immediately started picking up grants out of the order of review. Establishing special quotas and paylines to redress the disparity. There was no talk of "real causes". There was not talk of strengthening the pipeline with better trainees so that one day, far off, they magically could better compete with the established. Oh no. They just picked up grants. And a LOT of them.

I wonder what it would take to fix the African-American PI disparity...

Ironically, because the pool of black applicants is so small, it wouldn’t take much to eliminate the disparity: Only 23 more R01 applications from black researchers would need to be funded each year to bring them to parity.

Are you KIDDING me? That's it?????

Oh right. I already figured this one out for them. And I didn't even have the real numbers.

In that 175 bin we'd need 3 more African-American PI apps funded to get to 100%. In the next higher (worse) scoring bin (200 score), about 56% of White PI apps were funded. Taking three from this bin and awarding three more AA PI awards in the next better scoring bin would plunge the White PI award probability from 56% to 55.7%. Whoa, belt up cowboy.

Moving down the curve with the same logic, we find in the 200 score bin that there are about 9 AA PI applications needed to put the 200 score bin to 100%. Looking down to the next worse scoring bin (225) and pulling these 9 apps from white PIs we end up changing the award probability for these apps from 22% to ..wait for it..... 20.8%.

Mere handfuls. I had probably overestimated how many black PIs were seeking funding. If this Mervis piece is to be trusted and it would only take 23 pickups across the entire NIH to fix the problem....

I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT FRANCIS COLLINS' PROBLEM IS.

Twenty three grants is practically rounding error. This is going to shake out to one or maybe three grants per year for the ICs, depending on size and what not.

Heck, I bet they fund this many grants every year by mistake. It's a big system. You think they don't have a few whoopsies sneak by every now and again? Of course they do.

But god forbid they should pick up 23 measly R01s to fix the funding disparity.

37 responses so far

How AAAS and Science magazine really feel about sexual harassment cases in science

Michael Balter wrote a piece about sexual harassment accusations against paleoanthropologist Brian Richmond, the curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History that was published in Science magazine.

This story has been part of what I hope is a critical mass of stories publicizing sexual harassment in academia. Critical, that is, to stimulating real improvement in workplaces and a decrease in tolerance for sexual harassing behavior on the part of established scientists toward their underlings.

There have been a very disturbing series of tweets from Balter today.

Holy....surely it isn't connected to....

Oh Christ, of course it is....

but they published it so...?

Well THAT should have a nicely suppressing effect on journalists who may think about writing up any future cases of sexual harassment in academia.

UPDATE: Blog entry from Balter.
__
ETA: I am particularly exercised about this after completing, just this week, a survey from AAAS about what the membership expects from them. The survey did not seem to have a check box item for "Fight against scientific and workplace misconduct".

36 responses so far

Representation in manuscript review

Feb 25 2016 Published by under Diversity in Science, Science Publication

One of the things that determines success in science careers is the opinion ~three peer reviewers have about your manuscript as offered up for publication in a given journal.

Hopefully I do not have to rehash the way that journal identify of a scientist's published work affects career success.

Hopefully I do not have to rehash the way that bias creeps into what otherwise is supposed to be objective analysis.

And let us leave your well-intentioned, but hopelessly naive calls for blinded peer review aside until that nirvana is reached.

Do you think about reviewer diversity at all? Many journals publish a year-end list of all reviewers (these don't say how many each reviewer wrote, of course). Have you ever scanned them for, say, gender balance? If you are an AE or EIC....does diversity* concern you?

On the author side, would you work to ensure your suggestions for potential reviewers are not biased? Do you ask for about as many women as men? Does ethnic or other minority characteristic of your suggestions play a role?

I'm guessing the answer is no?

I have taken to trying to suggest equal numbers of male and female reviewers when I submit a manuscript. This is pretty simple in my fields of work, so long as you think about it.

Other forms of representation? Not really possible, is my first thought. But....now I'm thinking about it. Maybe I'll put a few people on my usual lists that I do not typically consider.

And when I get a chance I'm going to go through those published reviewer lists. I'm curious how the journals I think of as being in my field are doing.


___
*Editorial boards are another place to look, those are published.

39 responses so far

The #StayMadAbby case proves the point about perceptions of fairness

Dec 10 2015 Published by under Academics, Anger, Diversity in Science

The other day I was discussing the notion of what is "fair" in majority USian thinking.

In the US, it is considered fair if the very top echelon of the disadvantaged population succeeds at the level of the bottom slice of the advantaged distribution.

And if any individual of the top echelon of the disadvantaged population should happen to achieve up past the middle of the advantaged distribution? Well clearly that is unfair and evidence of reverse discrimination!

I was not familiar with the details of the Abigail Fisher (#StayMadAbby) case under consideration by SCOTUS (see Scalia) this week when I wrote that. I have learned a few things.

The University of Texas has a policy of accepting the top 10% of in-state high school graduates. This accounted for 92% of the slots when Ms. Fisher was applying for admission. She was not in the top 10% of her class.

Her qualifications were mediocre at best: A GPA of 3.59 and SAT scores of 1180/1600.

So she was less than amazingly qualified and was fighting for one of the 8% of the remaining admission slots for non-top-10% applicants.

There is more though, which is a real kicker. Again, from the Salon article. There were:

168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.

So if she had been admitted, they would have all had a case that she was stealing their slot.

It gets better*.

It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.

Emphasis added.

Ms. Fisher is suing on the basis of those five black or Latino students who were admitted. They had worse grades, you see, so she deserved to get in. And was discriminated against solely on the fact that she wasn't black or Latina. Except 42 white students also were admitted with worse grades. So if anyone took her slot it is 42:5 THAT IT WAS A WHITE STUDENT.

And of course had she been offered admission, there were 168 individuals with the same claim against her that she is making now.

Reminder. This is not just one woman's disappointed whinging and viral YouTube video.

This case has wended its way all the way up to the highest court in the land and is being considered by our SCOTUS Justices.

She is the best possible plaintiff. Because the details of this case underscore how true it is that "fairness" in this country is that which only just barely allows the disadvantaged to draw (almost) even with the very lowest attaining members of the advantaged populations.
__
*worse

100 responses so far

Older posts »